James Belchamber

The Tories are using Coronavirus to rig local elections

In most elections, the right outspend the Left. This is just a truism, and of no surprise to anyone acquainted with modern politics. In addition, the news media is strongly biased toward right-wing ideas and right-wing politics. In response, the Left reaches for their army of volunteers - doing for free (inspired by Left-wing ideals like equality, freedom and justice) what the right have to pay for. Even in this uneven ground, the Left - through sheer strength of message - can win out against what seem like unbeatable odds. It's this hard work, by many selfless volunteers, that has formed the bulwark against those that would lead by hate and fear, manipulated by false narratives and backed by wealthy donors.

Yesterday, the Tories wrote a decree banning this second, volunteer-led, approach to campaigning - and in so doing, tipped the scales massively in their favour.

This year's local elections are already a worry for the Conservative Party. A series of polls have placed them on the path to losing a general election, and the seats up for election this year - last contested in 2016/17 - were against a recently defenestrated Liberal Democrats and a deeply unpopular Labour leadership (with UKIP shedding almost all their seats in 2017). Poor performance in Johnson's first set of local elections since his "stonking mandate" would be a hard pill to swallow, underlining a weak Brexit deal that's threatening to unravel - alongside his deadly handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, none of this matters if they can simply rig the conditions of the local elections in their favour.

We still don't actually know if these elections are going to go ahead. Last year they weren't delayed until mid-March - the government have said that there will be no delay this time, but of course as a population we've learned that the government's word is as good as meaningless. Eyes will be peeled right up to election day, since the Conservative-led parliament can just go ahead and delay it again through legislation - watch out for a u-turn similar to what we saw with schools earlier this month.

Now, we can argue all day long about whether political activities are "essential" - and how you will see this is probably as much down to your engagement in politics, as what role politicians play in your lives. For those that have been thrown into poverty due to the pandemic, local politics matters - and if your local mayor believes homeless people should simply save for a £5k deposit on a house? They're probably not going to be the lifeline you need in this time of crisis.

Regardless: if the Johnson ministry were interested in your welfare, there are a lot of options on the table. They could push for a convention on stopping political leaflet delivery - paid or volunteer - which ensures nobody is unduly advantaged or disadvantaged. They could postpone the elections (they still might), or put in a process to delay it while we prepare for all-postal elections (the planning of which could have started after the first postponement). They could just ban all leaflet delivery outright.

That they're specifically banning only volunteer leaflet delivery, and allowing paid delivery to continue, tells you all you need to know - that the Tories are rigging this year's local elections in their favour.

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